Potatoes are undoubtedly among our very favourite vegetables to grow. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as unearthing those tantalising tubers! There are a number of ways you can grow them – each with its own specific advantages.
Read on or watch our video to discover the four best techniques for planting potatoes...
The traditional and arguably most productive way to grow potatoes is in parallel rows. This makes them easy to earth up as they grow using any combination of surrounding soil and organic matter such as dried leaves, well-rotted manure or grass clippings.
Chit (sprout) your seed potatoes somewhere cool and airy before planting to give them a head start and encourage them to produce a bigger crop. Plant them in a sunny spot, into soil that’s been enriched with plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
You can also tickle some chicken manure pellets or other slow-released organic fertiliser into the bottom of the planting trench. All those organic nutrients will help to nourish the hungry plants as they grow.
Set the seed potatoes about a foot (30cm) apart, in rows one and a half to two feet (45-60cm) apart, depending on variety. Plant so that the shoots face upwards. If your soil is nice and loose you may find it easier to simply dig a hole for each seed potato.
Earthing up increases the amount of organic matter around the roots so there’s more space for the tubers to grow. It also prevents any that grow near the surface from turning green. Start earthing up once the shoots are up to your ankle, then continue drawing up or laying down material every few weeks until the foliage has filled out between the rows or you can earth up no more.
No-Dig Potato Planting
A variation on traditional planting is to use the no-till method. Simply lay the sprouted potatoes on top of the soil surface before covering them with a layer of compost, dried leaves, hay or straw. If you want to use hay or straw, check with your supplier that there’s no risk of any herbicide residues within it.
Nestle the potatoes into the soil, then cover with a deep layer of organic matter about eight inches (20cm) thick. If you’re using straw or hay, you’ll need to weigh it down initially – sticks work well. The hay will soon settle down though, creating a mat of material that locks out weeds while keeping the roots nice and cool. Potato shoots are very robust and will have no problem pushing through. There’s no need to hill. When the potatoes are ready, simply pull back the now partially decomposed organic matter to reveal the tubers beneath.
Extra Early Potatoes
Who doesn’t love cheating the seasons to get a super-early crop? If you’ve got the protection of a greenhouse, tunnel or even a cold frame, you can.
Set your sprouted seed potatoes into generous-sized tubs or sacks. That way you can plant them up to three weeks earlier than you can outside, so long as you can guarantee they’ll be safe from frost. Choose early varieties if you’d like to try this method.
Pop them onto a four-inch (10cm) layer of potting soil then cover to a similar depth. They’re easily earthed up – just add more compost every time the foliage reaches about six inches (15cm high) and keep on going till you reach the top of the sack.
Once the weather’s warmed up outside, you can move the sacks outdoors to finish growing. This method works best in cooler climates, where the roots are less likely to overheat. If this happens, the plants will stop producing tubers.
Home-grown Potatoes in Winter
Growing potatoes in containers or sacks also works at the other end of the growing season. Plant ‘second early’ varieties in late summer, then bring them under cover as the weather cools down to grow on. This way you can enjoy a really late crop to enjoy throughout the autumn.
In milder climates there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your own potatoes even in the depths of winter. Pick a maincrop variety to plant in late spring. When the foliage starts to die back, cut the stems to the ground and leave them be. Then you can simply dig them up at your convenience. They should store in the ground until the second half of winter.
Early potatoes, late potatoes, or just lots of potatoes – I hope we’ve given you a few ideas to get started. If you use a different method for growing your potatoes, please tell us about in the comments section below. With spring upon us, the growing season begins in earnest!